Flourishing / Idylls and Rambles / Heart


. 5 min read . Written by Russell Smith

New ways of trusting myself

On July 4, 1845, a young man - not even 28 years old – walked out of his town, seeking a more peaceful and idyllic setting some miles away in which to study nature, hike and think. When he rose with the sun the next morning, it was the birthday of his beloved older brother, who had died three years before. The young man had awakened into a new life.

He began exploring his reasons for coming to that place and writing about it. Soon, the experience and the writing flowed together, a confluence as inseparable as the cycles of the seasons. The experience provided immense meaning – and writing about the living also excavated more cavernous and buried layers of significance. He spent two years, two months and two days there. After he left this home, he spent seven additional years distilling his reactions, thinking and writing about his time there. He finally published the book about his life there in 1854.

Henry David Thoreau. Walden.

As he could not disentangle his life there from his writing about it, so we cannot separate the man and his book in our minds or from the soul of America. And so Thoreau became a legend, a universal archetype admired, catechized and solemnized around the world 161 years after his death.  

Foster Season 2 gifted me the same kind of transformative union of living and writing. Even before the start of Season 2, I knew this experience would change my life. I did not know how, but I opened myself for the waves of the experience to flood my being, swelling and surrounding me as the days passed.

In the five weeks of Season 2, I learned so much about writing: tapping into primeval veins of creativity, emerging worlds of publishing, AI and reading tools, and much more. Webinar after webinar, the wonderful ifs accumulated. Possibility abounded.

In Season 2, I wrote about my congenital heart defect and the evolution of my relationship with my body. Season 2 culminated in my publishing “The Body Issue,” describing my congenital heart defect and the evolution of my relationship with my body. That story took weeks to write, months to conceptualize and a life to live.

The two streams flowed together – the webinars and writing my essay merged as Season 2 became integrated into my life.

Unanticipated realizations emerged. I ended “The Body Issue” with the words, “I love my body.” I mused on those words for many days. They seemed fitting, but why? I dug more into my meaning behind the words. Love encompasses so many dimensions – respect, connectedness, fulfillment. And trust.

Through writing about my body, I came to an appreciation that I trusted my body. I could trust my physical body to do what a body should. On a 12-mile ruck, it would not let me down; my body would make it to the end, safely and even joyously.

That realization reverberated inside me. Because of my heart defect, I’d usually approached life as if my body might let me down at any time. I carefully considered almost any bodily exertion, weighing the situational risks if my body went haywire – by going into tachycardia, for instance. I had never really trusted my body. And now I could – and I did. Sure, I still had to take care in my decision making. But the fear which constantly hindered a relationship of trust in my physical body evaporated as Season 2 forged ahead.

As I began to apprehend this sensation of trust in my physical body, I found myself opening up to listen to and trust other aspects of my body and my heart. I began listening to my heart reaction, my feeling reaction, my bodily response to the present moment. Not necessarily as new-fangled decision making overlords in life. But as new sources of information for my consideration.

One simple example involves my reading. For years, I’d raced through business, sales and productivity books, bound and determined that “the next one” contained the magic leading to success in life. I steamrolled ahead, my mind restlessly prodding me along. In Season 2, I began paying attention to my feelings as I reached for the next book. Did I find my heart attracted to that book? Did I feel excitement well up inside me? I also noticed my physical reaction. Did my hands eagerly reach out for that productivity book? Or did it wander, seemingly with a mind of its own, toward another book two shelves down?

It’s difficult to convey what a radical shift in living this has become. Again, because of my heart problem, rational calculation became my mind’s constant modus operandi. To know deeply, profoundly that I could trust my physical body – and to have that trust lead to an expansive openness to listen to and trust the wisdom of all facets of my being – it feels like I have awakened to a new life of greater possibility than I’ve ever perceived before.  

As Season 2 came to an end, my heart or my intuition or call it what you will began sending me a message – quiet at first, then louder, then undeniable. Curious to attune myself to its message. I felt a palpable sensation calling me to explore this newly-discovered insight about all the sources of potential wisdom in my reading and writing. I had explored my heart defect and my body in significant depth. It was time to explore matters relating to a far more expansive definition of heart – spirit, soul, revelation, feeling and intuition.

After “The Body Issue,” after Season 2 ended, I next published a survey about Your Prayer Practice, my first tentative effort to begin exploring these matters of the spirit and heart. I also began reading two of the foundational books of wisdom and spirit: The Bhagavad Gita and the Bible. For me, all of these represent the earliest days of following my own heart’s intuition in exploring the heart and spirit of the human experience.

Awakening. That word defines Season 2 and my ongoing reflections about it. I no longer feel small, as if I have to hide myself or my gifts. I feel revived, full of life and vigor and wonder. The world remains the same, but my world appears renewed in my eyes – a prism I can tilt this way and that, revealing a new panoply of dazzling colors in every moment. I feel full and big and filled with the promise of new ways of listening, exploring and living.

In some sense, that awakening provides clarity in my life. In other ways, I feel more confused. I still have more meaning to open my eyes to, new colors to unleash with my prism. My ways to listen with the ears of the heart. I look forward to that continued revelation in Foster Season 3: The Artisan's Way.


I feel enormous gratitude to my dear Foster friend JG for his immensely helpful reflections on and edits of this essay. Many thanks to another Foster friend, Lisa Dawson, for her review as well.


I am indebted to the Art of Manliness podcast interview with Jeffrey S. Cramer for this beautiful insight into Thoreau, Walden, and the symbiotic relationship between living an experience and writing about it.


Images created by Midjourney.